One day, I think it was a Sunday, I was walking through the grounds of 'Allly
Pally' when I came across what looked like and RAF camp. Inside a group
of lads were marching up and down, so I walked in and asked if I could
join. That was how I became a member of 16F Air Training Corps.
The ATC had an armoury filled with .303 rifles and a few Bren
guns. I imagine none could fire,I am not really sure about that. We
learned rifle drill, how to strip a Bren and so on. In addition we were
taught the rudiments of mechanics, we had a lecture room with a couple
of aircraft engines in it. There were a number of subjects we studied
including Morse Code, flight theory (drag and lift and so on), and this
was all in our own time, after school. There was also a Link Trainer which
was like a blacked out Aircraft cockpit - it was an early flight
simulator and great fun to 'fly'. The ATC also had its own band. I learned
the bugle (badly), and went onto side drum, eventually becoming lead drummer.
We also had yearly camps; I went to one at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk, and
another at RAF Arundel. At Arundel we were taken out one night and dumped
on the South Downs with a map. Our task was to navigate back to camp. We
all made it bar one team and a helicopter had to be sent out to find them.
An uncle had a farm at North Elmham which is a tiny hamlet near
Dereham in Norfolk. I went there one summer with my mother, and from
then on I would go by coach every year for most of the school holidays.
It was on the farm that I learned to drive a tractor, to chase rabbits
out of the corn at harvest, and the taste of milk warm from the cow. I
was about 15 years old when my uncle entrusted me with his double 12 gauge
shotgun. I went into Dereham and bought a box of cartridges, then collected
the dog and set out for the day. Later that afternoon I ran all the way
back to the farm thinking the dog was dying. It wasn't; it was just old
and tired out. What was the day's bag ? Well not a thing actually, zero.The
River Wensum ran through my uncle's land and a lot of fishing went on there.
It teemed with Pike and they seemed top go for anything we threw in (the
'we' being me and my cousin).
Eventually I got my first cycle and then a whole new world opened
up for me. Most of my friends had the bike I really wanted; a Claude
Butler frame and Durallier gears, but I had a 'sensible'Raleigh (with
the awful Sturmney Archer hub gears). With a paint job and a few bits
and pieces I managed to get some street cred ( but not a lot). I cycled miles.
The River Lea towpath was a favourite destination. We would take our airguns
there and stage battles; nobody got hurt bar the odd pellet hit, okay,
we were lucky. By this time my 'territory' was Wood Green High Road, Turnpike
Lane, Green Lanes and Seven Sisters Road, Alexandra Palace and of course,
the Lea Valley. Once I reached 16 I needed something with an engine.
I left school at fifteen and a half having taken no GCEs. I suppose
that when we leave school and start to work, that is when we stop being
children so that seems a good place to end this 'Childhood' section.
There is some over-lap since my first scooter did not happen until I was
sixteen. I could have as easily become a Rocker as a Mod. My Nan had
saved £20 for me, and one Sunday, just after my sixteenth birthday,
I set off in search of two wheels and an engine. The Scooter I came home
with ( pushed all the way home) is on my Cars page. With the scooter I
was able to explore the Army ranges near Pirbright. Here I found dozens
of live bullets and lots of bags of cordite - little sacks that are tied
to mortors to fire them. With the cordite I developed crude bombs based on
drilled out broom handles. To ignite them I came up with a percussion and
an electrical fuse, and off we (I had a couple of good friends at the time)
went to the Lea Marshes again. How nobody ever got hurt I will never know
- but we had some big bangs! I would hope that you cannot get on those ranges
now, and that if you can the Army is more careful with its ordanance - it
was when I served.
The new term at Downhills started in September, and on the first
day back I went to see the headmaster, Dr fisher, and left. It was a year
or two before I began to regret what I had thrown away and it was much
longer until I really understood what
had given me.